While investigating a murder, hard-working Cardiff police officer Gwen Cooper (Myles) stumbles across a secret organisation called Torchwood who investigate alien threats and collect the leftover technology. Based on a temporal time-rift and led by the charismatic Jack Harkness (Barrowman), Gwen is intrigued and becomes the team’s newest member…
Following on from the surprising success of the Beeb’s revitalised Doctor Who, showrunner Russell T. Davies decided to branch out with a darker and sexier spin-off. Though set in the same Whouniverse (Captain Jack popped up during Christopher Ecclestone’s run), Torchwood’s appealing remit – according to Davies – was to offer a grittier, more adult alternative for those who find Who too childish. But while undoubtedly more sweary, violent and sexual, the result sadly isn’t the grown-up substitute some of us were hoping for.
Regardless of how hard Torchwood tries, it just can’t get the mix right. Aside from the fact that there’s too many disposable episodes (which also suffer from recycling existing genre stories), the ‘adult’ material feels more like Queer As Folk (which Davies also ran) merged into Doctor Who than it does ‘mature’. The swearing and sexiness often jars with the show’s tone – which remains similar to Who – whilst the fact that pretty much everyone is bisexual means same-sex antics frequently feel shoe-horned in.
Which is a shame, given what an intriguing central character we have in Captain Jack Harkness. Undeniably, John Barrowman has a tendency to overact at times, but he’s a winning screen presence with such natural charm that the biggest frustration is how often Jack is absent and not nearly as central as he should be. The rest of the cast get equal focus (roughly), yet the only memorable turns come via Eve Myles’ Welsh copper and Burn Gorman’s sarcastic medical officer.
A sexier, swearier and edgier spin-off from Doctor Who, but series one is a messy run which hasn’t got the tone right yet. The final few episodes promise that there’s a good show in here somewhere though…